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Fluxus Revised and Revisited

Fluxus Revised and Revisited

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Review: Fluxus Revised and RevisitedAuthor(s): Elizabeth Beckman and Jonathan ApplefieldSource:
Art Journal,
Vol. 58, No. 3 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 100-102Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 08/10/2010 19:01
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Fluxus Revised andRevisited
Elizabeth BeckmanandjonathanApplefield
JoanMarter,ed.OffLimits:RutgersUniversityand theAvant-Garde,1957-1963.Exh.cat.Newark: The NewarkMuseum andNewBrunswick:Rutgers
UniversityPress,i999.Essays bySimon
Anderson,JosephJacobs, JacksonLears,
Marter,KristineStiles.199pp.,31color
ills.,80b/w.$60,$30paper.EmmettWilliams and AnnNoel,eds.MR. FLUXUS:ACollective PortraitofGeorgeMaciunas,1931-1978.London:
ThamesandHudson,1997.
352
pp.,b/w
ills.$34.95.KenFriedman,ed. The Fluxus Reader.Chichester,England: AcademyEditions,1998.Essays byFriedman,OwenSmith,SimonAnderson,HannahHiggins,InaBlom,DavidT.Doris,CraigSaper,EsteraMilman,StephenC.Foster,NicholasZurbrugg,LarryMiller,SusanL.Jarosi,
DickHiggins.309pp.
The"RutgersCircle"-GeorgeBrecht,RobertWatts,RobertWhitman,RoyLichtenstein,AllanKaprow,LucasSamaras,George Segal,andGeoffreyHendricks--was thesubjectof OffLimits:Rutgers niversityand heAvantGarde,957-1963,an exhibitionorganizedbytheNewark Museumthisspring.Curatedby JosephJacobs,thiswasone of the mostchallengingexhibitions inyears-forthecurator and visitors alike. Ata timewhenmuseumsseektoprioritizeentertainment overeducation,the exhibi-tionentertained andeducatedsimultane-ously.It became a funhouse ofFluxus,Pop,Happenings,and whatevercategoryinwhichoneplacesSamaras'swork. At
moments iteffectivelyreanimated theorigi-nalconceptof the art ondisplay,whileatothers,the work remained"offlimits"--preservedasdocuments ofthepast.Brecht'sSolitaire1959),agameconsist-ingoftwenty-seven playingcardswithinstructions,wasdisplayedinavitrine. Afacsimileof theoriginaldeck sat on a table
foranyonetoplay.Forfiftycents onecouldbuya book of Watts'sstampsfromhisStampMachine
1962).
Whitman's Shower
(1962),anassemblageofrunningwater,
transparenthowercurtain,andprojectedfilmfootageof a womanbathing,createdanewsense ofvoyeurismforviewers.Anindexfingerpointedvisitors fromone sec-tion or"event" oftheexhibition tothenext. AtrademarkofFluxustypography,thefingermade referenceto thesignpainter'sdetail in MarcelDuchamp'sTu m'(1918).Thissignhas beeninterpretedasrepresentingthedeclarative,performativeact ofseeing, naming,andredefiningthefoundobject.'This ispreciselywhatmanyof the works intheexhibitiondidas theseartistsrealizedDuchamp's conceptsto theirfullest extent.Someof theworkwas"offlimits."While onewouldnot think oftouchingacanvas suchasLookMickey
1961),
Lichtenstein'sfirstcomicstrippainting,everyoneloves toplaywithgames.Watts'sFrogGame
(i96o),
a mechanizedassemblagethatresembledapinballgamewith wind-uptoysandblinking lights,wasembalmedin a museum case. Thegame'scoiled-upelectricalcordlaid deadjustinches fromthe wall outlet that couldgivethetoy-artlife. One couldread theinstructionsbutnolongerplaythegame.AnotherinactiveinteractivepiecewasBrecht'sRepository
(1961).
Althoughthe artistoriginallyin-tended for viewerstoreplacethe shelvedobjectswithsubstitutes oftheirown choice,it too wasinstalledin a museumcase. Ontheoccasion ofan exhibitionofasimilarwork,Medicine hest(i96o),Brechtwroteto thecurator,"It is within thespiritof the work that(asinlifeingeneral)parts maybelost, broken,spilled,stolen,replaced,contributed, soiled, cleaned,con-structed,destroyed."2'ButinbothFrogGameandRepository,nlythevisualpleasureofthe workremained,andtheoriginalcon-ceptofplaywas short-circuited.Kaprow side-steppedthisproblem by"reinventing"one of hisearlyEnviron-
ments.BeautyParlor V(i958/99),originally
madein
1958
for theHansaGallery,wasreinventedbefore,in1991at theFonda-zioneMudima,Milan.3 In its Newarkrein-vention,theEnvironmentgaveviewersthefeelingofbeingin anarcadewithclearplasticwalls, mirrors,andcoloredlights.Fortwodollars,one couldstepinto oneof fourphotoboothsfor asnapshotwhilewearingoneof thefunhousemasks borrowed fromanearbyrack. Visitors could thenhangtheirself-portraitson the wall.Mostof theHappeningsandEventswerepresentedthroughdocumentation con-sistingofphotographs,hand-writtensketches, notebooks,scorecards,and film. Therewas alargesectiondedicatedtothe YamFestival,theyear-longseries ofEvents,Happenings,exhibitions,andmailings orga-nizedbyWatts and Brecht in
1962-63;a newdocumentaryonWhitman's
Americanoon
(i96o);
andaudiorecordingsfromJohnCage'sfamousclasses atthe
NewSchool(1957-59).This solidand visu-
allyattractivehistoricalpresentationwasnot as much funorasedifyingasexperi-encingBrecht'sMotorVehicleundownEvent)
(I96o),whichthe NewJersey Symphony
Orchestraperformedat theclosingof theexhibition across the street inWashingtonPark.LarryMiller,the Fluxus artist andformer student ofWatts,conducted.RobertWatts. TableorSuicideEvent(detail),1961. Painted woodtable,inkdrawing collage,variousobjects.34%x30Yx27X(88x78.x69.9). CourtesyRobertWatts Estate. PhotoLarryMiller.
100 FALL
1999
 
Not sinceBlam:TheExplosionfPop,MinimalismPerformance958-i964,the ex-hibitionandcatalogueprepared bytheWhitneyMuseum of AmericanArtin1984,hassuchanextensive,wellillustrated cata-loguechartedthisaestheticallydiverseperiod.It containsinterviewswithsixoftheartistsintheexhibitionand one withLettyLouEisenhauer,in which the workofWattsand Brechtisdiscussed.The inter-viewsprimarilyfocusontheartists' con-nectionwithRutgersand their relation-shipswith one another.JacobsprovidesanessaythatrelatesCage'sclasses andhis1958lecture atRutgersto theart in theexhibition. Thecataloguealso includesaserviceablebibliography,an extensivechronology,and a numberofpreviouslyunpublishedblack-and-whiteandcolorphotographs.Animportantcoda to thepublicationis"ProjectnMultipleDimen-sions"
(i957),
apreviously unpublishedproposalbyWatts, Brecht,andKaprowoutliningaprogramfor art educationthatforegroundsmultimedia,newtechnology,and scientific methodsin studiopractice.However,oneflaw in thepresentation(especiallyevidentinthecatalogue)is therolewithwhichRutgersis creditedinthe formation ofthe artists'experimentalapproachesto art.Infact,theprogressiveteachingat the school was less theproductofaphilosophyendorsedbythe adminis-trationthanthefortuitous arrival of newfaculty consistingofKaprow,Hendricks,Watts,and Lichtenstein. It sometimessoundsasifanactofnostalgicromanti-cizationorinstitutional boosterism takesplacehere.Onereason for thisistostrengthenthe exhibition's raisond'etre--thatis,tounifytheeightplayersfeatured.Thecatalogue'seditor,JoanMarter,re-printsalengthyexcerptfromKaprowtoadd somelocal colorto the"stimulatingambianceontheNewBrunswickcampus"(2).Butthisexcerptismoreinteresting
for what she omits: "Theuniversitywassunkeninpoeticindifference,ina blanksleep preserved bycampusdonsandladies'clubs....Ironically,Rutgerswas the cata-lystin allthis,inspiteofitself.For therecord,it neverencouraged,and oftenopposed,whatwe weredoinginthatfor-lornplace."*Thus,itwas ironic thatBook,
originallyapartof Samaras'sM.A.thesis,was includedinthe exhibition.The admin-istrationwished to censorit,sinceitcon-tainedlanguagetheyfoundunacceptable,butKaprowardentlyinterceded on his stu-dent's behalf. Samaraseventuallyreceivedhisdegree,butKaprow,passedover fortenureshortlyafterwards,leftRutgers.Thisisallparadoxical consideringthecataloguemakesrepeatedcomparisonsbetweenRutgersand Black MountainCollege.Mr.Fluxus:CollectiveortraitfGeorgeMaciunas,ompiledand editedbythreeFluxusinsiders,EmmettWilliams,AnnNo6l,andAy-O,gathersinkaleidoscopicfashion reflections andprimarydocumentsfromseventydifferent voicesthatbringto life theidiosyncratic,amazinglyprolificcharacterwho was theprimeengineofFluxus.From YokoOnoto theDeputyAssistantAttorneyGeneral ofNewYork,from KateMilletto the artist'sownmother,atrulycollectiveportraitunfolds aseasilyandamusinglyasifone werelisteninginonapartyline.Thisis notonlydueto thecontent ofthecontributions,but also thewaytheyarearranged.Thereader'stactilesenses are aroused as one shuttlesbackandforthto the index to find the authorofeachentry.LikeTristanTzaraorAndreBreton,Maciunas'spersonahasbecomethesubjectofcaricature,butthispolyphonicapproach groundsthebetter knownimagesand anecdotes in ameaningfulcontext,illuminatedbyfirst-handimpressions byintimatefriends,colleagues,and occasionalfoes.Thethree hundred entries(usuallynomorethan afewparagraphseach),arearrangedinthematic andchronologicalchapters. Theytake the readerfrom"TheOldCountry"(MaciunaswasLithuanian)and "TheEuropeanFestivals" to"SeeingRed"(onMaciunas'spolitics),"DonQuixoteinSoHo"(hispioneeringrole inestablishingartistsco-operativesinSoHo)
and"LeakyDreamboats"(his plansto "setupaFluxusisland,acolony, youknow,likea realcountry,with a United Nationsdelegationandall that"[221]).Theselast twochaptersshowthebreadth ofMaciunas's idealism. "His achievement wasnotonlyFluxus,but alsoSoho,"writesNamJunePaik(194).Thisdevelopment
Reviews
of "Hell's iooAcres"(thefiredepart-ment'sterm forpre-artistcolonizedSoho)isthoroughlydocumented withMaciunasasprimogenitor.It is hewemaythankfor"illegally"plantingthe first treesin frontof 8o Wooster Street.Therearehumorous,touching,andeventragicmoments in thestoryaswell,whichhelptoexplainthe lookandattitude ofFluxus ingeneral,as well as thepersonalrelation-shipsthatdefined thegroup.Forinstance,onegainsa senseofMaciunas's aestheticpredilectionsin the midst of hislegalimbroglioover taxeswith theAttorneyGeneral's Office.Hisreplytobureaucracy:a "Flux-fortress(forkeeping awaythe mar-shals &police:variousunbreakable doorswithgiant cuttingbladesfacingout...trick doors andceilinghatches,filled orbacked with whitepowder, liquids,smellyextracts"[i85]).Suchgagsareinkeepingwithmanyof the humorous boxes hepro-duced under the Fluxusimprimatur. (Yearslater,he would construct a similar FluxLabyrinthat theAkademiederKiinsteinBerlin).Anotherexampleofthe relationofhispersonallifeto FluxushistoryisthewayhisfriendsjoinedMaciunas in hislastmonths offightingcancer,assemblingmoreFluxusboxesto raise much neededmoneyfor hismedicalbills.Themost valuableaspectof this liter-ary portraitcomesnot fromanecdotes orhistoricalfacts,but from themoreintangi-bleaspectsof hisart thatonegleansfromMaciunas'stemperament,mannerisms,per-sonalhabits,tastes,andobsessions.Hispenchantforcleanliness,drive forsystem-aticorganization, compulsivethriftiness,and love ofpractical jokesextendedfarbeyondthe confines of his lifeto infuseevery aspectofFluxus.Allboundariesbetweenpersonalbiographyand Fluxusseem tocollapse,makingMr.Fluxus nillu-minatingaccount notonlyofMaciunas theman,but awindowinto thelarger concep-tual andaesthetic field hedominated.Fluxus is furtherexploredin TheFluxusReader,ditedby longtimeFluxuschronicler
101
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